Last night I sat down with a friend and fellow photographer to navigate last week’s sessions and decide on which ones were best suited for social media. The two pictured below really put the hook in me. Not that they were the best or they fit a specific project or portfolio piece. What really caught my eye was that their close resemblance to the photographs and artists who first inspired my love and appreciation for art and photography. The basic lighting and concepts that seemed so out of reach back then.
In my recent months of shooting I’ve been urged to google images and visit sites such as Pinterest and Instagram to create look books.Forming ideas and creating templates for photo sessions have become blueprints for getting exactly what I need from each session, model and shoot. Telling a model in advance, “This is what I want to shoot.” or “Can we do this?” has been a great way to inspire both myself and the person I’m working with. In the end, it allcomes down to good communicstion, preparation and proper execution.
As I find myself working harder and harder to point my way back towards becoming a full time, or at least more consistent studio photographer. I feel my doubts and insecurities reaching a boiling point. The combination of learning new things while unlearning others that once worked just fine for me and many of the people I worked with. With shoots being booked and sessions coming in. I find myself overloaded with information and ideas. I have to admit, it’s a little overwhelming.
As I was setting up for a upcoming shoot and getting familiar with some new software, gear and switching up backgrounds. I had to stop, take a deep breath and step a bit back to find comfort in some older sessions to remind myself “You got this. You can do this.” I can always go back to the things I already know and relied on, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere but where I already am. In order to grow you have to learn, take chances and try new things. In order for me to continue doing what I love. I have to get past my anxiety fear of failure. To quote a wise green guy. “There is no try, only do.”
Last night a friend and fellow photographer visited to give me a lighting tutorial using just one hot light and a couple of flags. Having someone just down the hall from me who’s more than happy to stop by to talk shop while sharing his experience and knowledge keeps me inspired and appreciative. No matter where my journey as a photographer takes me. I need to learn and grow in order to keep that passion alive.
As we were shooting, he mentioned how this style would work well with my artist and musician portraits. Adding dimension and drama to my images. As we viewed each image as it was shot. I was reminded of a shoot I did with Brooklyn’s Cinema Cinema at my old home studio in Hoboken. This image was also shot with one light that was fitted with a soft box. At the time, and still to this day. Both the band and myself loved the results. It seems that this was the direction I was hoping to move towards for some time now.
Having all the space I need to shoot and the tools to help my work grow. I can only hope to continue doing what I love. To quote the late, great Joe Strummer “The Future is Unwritten.”
On an almost daily basis. I take a few minutes to spend a little time visiting a past shoot to either tweak an overlooked image while sending any less than worthy ones to the trash. It’s a practice that has allowed me to purge thousands of images while giving me time to savor and care for the ones that really count. As I look back to my earliest home studio work. I see my leanings towards broad/flat lighting. A style that may have worked for me at the time. Clearly displays my fears of fucking things up and making mistakes. Perhaps revealing my rookie status. And while the image below might look good to some. I clearly remember feeling like that first day on the school bus. Luckily, that day helped me capture a number of images that would lead to future work and ultimately, more confidence.
On this latter image I had not only gained confidence, but I learned some essential lessons about successfully communicating ideas and concepts while gaining the confidence and trust of the model. On this particular shoot, I took a more creative approach with both the lighting and concept. I knew exactly what I was looking to accomplish as well as the message I was looking to convey. As I revisited this image for the first time in over a year. I decided to add a little shadow and highlights while adjusting the contrast to give it the dramatic and moody feel the shoot called for. As I grow and hopefully evolve as a photographer. I look forward to taking chances with light, make some mistakes I can learn from and shoot with a more ballsy, confident approach.
If there’s anything I missed in 2014. It would have to be portraits and studio photography. While the year presented many opportunities for travel, event and real estate photography. My studio work suffered greatly for many reasons. Moving to a new and spacious loft in nearby Jersey City offered new opportunities while allowing me to expand and grow. Unfortunately, I stalled in the process and temporarily lost my way. It seems I lost my ability to communicate in a way I’m used to, in a way I’m accustomed to. Then came the winter, the cold, the ice and the snow. During that time, I kept busy, worked on other aspects of my photography and waited. Suddenly an opportunity showed itself when our interior decorator, friend and neighbor stopped by to see the remaining pieces he ordered for our kitchen. A great communicator and story teller in every sense. I asked him to sit for me as I tested some lighting set ups. He happily obliged and within five minutes we had some great photos to go with the stories we had shared. It was a nice moment that reminded me about navigating the highs and lows of creativity. How when one aspect of your work loses steam, another might thrive. Like life itself, creativity is a balancing act. Thanks to my new friend for reminding me.
I’ve always loved working with darker skinned models but it definitely has presented challenges for me. I had gone through a week or so where I photographed a number of African American women and though each of these women was beautiful on just about every level I found myself spending more time than usual in post production. There were issues with shine, blemishes that were unseen while photographing popping up after loading and a couple of others. My first thought was asking my models to wear foundation but in essence it was really my job to find a solution.
So I did my research and I learned that light skin and dark skin call for different lighting. While light skin bounces the light it receives. Black skin has a way of absorbing the light. Thus magnifying the smallest of imperfection. By changing the lighting from the front of the model to the side around the face , thus wrapping her with light, I saw a big difference. I also brought in an extra light which I placed at 90∘. This lifted the shadows while not obscuring the details of the portrait. Though I have yet to perfect this technique. I’m excited to have found an answer. It just goes to prove that with every problem lies a solution. And though sometimes the first instinct is to panic or give up. It’s always better to do your research. The answers are out there. It’s just a matter of asking the right questions.
About a year ago I got a My Space message from my friend Justine in Boston. She told me she had always liked my work and enjoyed keeping up with my new pictures and adventures. BUT, yes there is always a BUT. She said the lighting in my studio shots seemed predictable. Had I ever thought of going darker and maybe adding more drama? Hmmm, she was right on target. My lighting was predictable and to be honest boring. It all came down to one thing, Fear. When I worked for other studios the lighting was either set up for us or when I was setting up and taking down the studio every day there was blueprint I was expected not to stray from. If there was ever a problem there was someone in the studio (a manager or owner) to fix it. When I went on my own I had no backup. No one to call when things went wrong. There was a certain fear of failure involved. So I never strayed far from the blueprint. When I got that email from Justine I really started to think. Why let fear of failure ever stop you from learning and growing. I really wanted to take the kind of pictures I saw my favorite photographers taking.
So the next time I had a model over to the studio I told her. “We’re going to try some new things today. We’re probably going to make some mistakes. Hopefully they’ll be good ones.” The results were great. She loved the shadows, contrast and overall dramatic effect they created. It was like being reborn. I started experimenting with different configurations. Moving the lights around and using one light instead of two, three or even four. I’ve been really happy with the results and I see a lot of growth and progression in my work and even confidence. I’ve gone from being afraid of making mistakes to looking forward to making and learning from them. It’s also helped me in gaining confidence in the studio. Something I lacked since deciding to go on my own. Thanks Justine, you gave me the little kick in the ass I needed.